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Video: Toddler comes face-to-face with escaped tiger

  1. Transcript of: Toddler comes face-to-face with escaped tiger

    ANN CURRY, co-host: But let's begin with an incredible story from Miami where a brave mom faced down an escaped tiger to save her little girl. We're going to talk to the hero mom in just a moment, but first, NBC 's Michelle Kosinski has more from Jungle Island in Miami . Hey, Michelle , good morning.

    MICHELLE KOSINSKI reporting: Good morning. So the question remains here, how does a tiger just jump over a more than 12-foot-high fence ? And what's weirder still here is that this seems to be a sort of chain reaction escape. The zoo thinks it was one of these guys, a mischievous gibbon that got out of his cage first, then enraged the tiger , inciting it to clear that fence . In moments of terror and confusion, with a 500-pound tiger walking loose around their zoo, patrons jammed into any safe space. This cell phone video was shot by Azucena Cierco , a TV reporter for Telemundo who was visiting the zoo with her five-year-old son Santiago . The Bengal tiger Mahesh had somehow leaped over his nearly 14-foot fence and soon came face-to-face with two-year-old Dianita Barratt walking just ahead of her mother.

    Ms. DIANA BARRATT (Daughter Came Face-to-Face with Escaped Tiger): I rounded the corner and she's standing there staring at this tiger . About 10 to 15 feet away from her just standing there, not moving, neither one of them are moving.

    KOSINSKI: Two-year-old vs. tiger , just staring. Mom in disbelief somehow knew what to do.

    Ms. BARRATT: Well, the tiger was very calm and I just didn't want to make it anxious at all, so I took a few steps toward her, picked her up and walked in the other direction.

    KOSINSKI: While some panicked, Mahesh roamed freely for about 20 minutes before zookeepers coaxed him back into a cage.

    Mr. JORGE PINO (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission): Didn't try to attack another patron, it didn't do anything other than look around and say what am I doing here?

    KOSINSKI: But zoo officials think it was actually this character, Watson the white-handed gibbon, who had escaped from his cage first, possibly when the door opened for feeding time. He then jumped into Mahesh 's cage, making that tiger mad.

    Mr. PINO: The monkey was mocking the tiger , causing the tiger to chase the monkey up the fence and ultimately landing on the other side .

    KOSINSKI: Furious 500-pound tiger , tiny unsuspecting children, amazing it all ended peacefully.

    Ms. ASHLEY SERRATE (Jungle Island Public Relations): At no point did the tiger ever think that human was a threat or was going to be an issue. They're used to humans, they're used to human interaction.

    KOSINSKI: Perhaps. But three years ago another Bengal tiger at a San Francisco zoo jumped his more than 12-foot fence and attacked three people, killing one. Here in Miami they are lucky Mahesh practiced some serious anger management once he was free, now soon to be living behind an even higher fence . Everybody seems to be behaving today, but while this is all under investigation, the big cats and chief suspect Watson the gibbon are being kept away from the public. Fish and wildlife officials, though, say they want the tiger 's cage, that fence raised. It's already 12 feet high with a two foot overhang. That's two feet higher than what's required by law. Well, they want it to be 14 feet with four extra feet on top of that and the zoo says it's more than willing to comply if that's what's necessary. Matt:

    MATT LAUER, co-host: That's an amazing story. Michelle Kosinski , thank you very much . Diana Barratt is here with her two-year-old Dianita . Good morning to both of you.

    Ms. BARRATT: Good morning.

    LAUER: How are you doing and how -- more importantly, how is she doing?

    Ms. BARRATT: She's doing fine.

    LAUER: Yeah? I mean, did you hear any commotion? Did you see anything happen...

    Ms. BARRATT: No.

    LAUER: ...before you turned around and basically ran after her and found her face-to-face with this tiger ?

    Ms. BARRATT: No, nothing.

    LAUER: How far away did she -- or how close, I should say, did she actually get to the tiger when you finally walked over to her?

    Ms. BARRATT: She was probably between 10 and 15 feet in front of the tiger .

    LAUER: I mean, it's incredibly close...

    Ms. BARRATT: Yes.

    LAUER: ...to a 500-pound tiger . One of the things that surprised me and maybe, I don't know, every account I've read, Diana , says that you acted incredibly calmly, that you slowly walked over and picked Dianita up and turned and got her out of there. Was this a situation where it was calm on the outside, screaming on the inside?

    Ms. BARRATT: I don't know how I maintained the calm. I just thought I shouldn't make any sudden moves, that I shouldn't do anything to excite the tiger .

    LAUER: When you turned and picked Dianita up, did you run away ? Was there other people running away ? Was there some sort of panic among other people at the zoo? Hi , Dianita , careful. Hi .

    Ms. BARRATT: There was nobody there at that particular moment, just the two of us facing the tiger . And there was nobody running, there was nobody screaming, so I just turned around quietly and walked away.

    LAUER: The people at Jungle Island say this tiger has been raised by humans, so there wouldn't have been much in terms of an aggressive reaction although it is still a wild animal. Did the tiger do anything in your opinion that appeared as if it was threatening?

    Ms. BARRATT: No. No, it was just standing there staring at her and she was staring right back at it.

    LAUER: Did you have some help from some of the zookeepers there at Island Jungle ? Did they help you get out of there at all?

    Ms. BARRATT: No, not at the moment. There was nobody there but the two of us .

    LAUER: You've had a little time and distance now to put this into perspective. When you hear the explanation of what may have happened, that this monkey may have riled this tiger up to the point where the tiger jumped over the 14- foot wall that separates it from the visitors...

    Ms. BARRATT: Mm-hmm.

    LAUER: ...what do you think about that?

    Ms. BARRATT: I think that the exhibit has never been safe if the tiger could just jump out when he became excited.

    LAUER: And your feelings about ever going back to this place, I mean, until they make changes here?

    Ms. BARRATT: No. We're not going to be renewing our annual pass.

    LAUER: Do you think -- do you think -- do you think that Dianita had any idea she was in such a perilous situation or was it just a day at the zoo for her?

    Ms. BARRATT: No, she was just standing there looking at the tiger .

    LAUER: Well, listen, we're happy everything worked out the way it did. And the fact that you remained so calm is extraordinary. And...

    Ms. BARRATT: I thought so, too.

    LAUER: I was going to say, a lot of people think that probably is one of the reasons it turned out so well, so congratulations.

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